Blown To Bits

Free speech on the Internet

Friday, July 11th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

Here’s¬†a good AP column about the way the major players limit what can be said in order to satisfy what they consider appropriate standards of taste. There is a wonderful example of a Dutch photographer whose documentary photo of a street scene in Romania was taken down from Flickr — twice. The problem? It showed a young adolescent boy smoking, as happens a lot on the streets of Romania. Flickr didn’t want to encourage youth smoking, or perhaps didn’t want to be accused of encouraging youth smoking, or perhaps received actual complaints about the photo and found it easier to censor than to argue.

This is a tough problem, as private enterprises should generally be left to do whatever they feel is best for business, and it’s hard to see this kind of censorship as harmful. But as sites like Flickr become the technological equivalent of the public square, attracting huge numbers of participants because a huge number of participants are already there, it’s equally hard not to think that the personal judgments of random employees should not be decisive in what can be shown and what can’t be. And government regulations immediately raise the problem that web sites are multinational and governments aren’t.¬†

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